Working with teaching colleagues and parents

Anneke’s Story
Caroline’s Story
Matt’s Story

Anneke’s Story

After several years working in a primary school, first as a class teacher and later as a remedial teacher, I trained for responsibility for the quality of teaching through the school. The course prepared me to be with teachers in class and advise them on their work with children. Over a few years, this became more and more a coaching responsibility and more focused on how teachers relate with children. This led me to reflect increasingly on my own practices, how I carried out my own work and how I related with my colleagues.

Then another training course contributed even more to my own education as a teacher. It was a two-year course provided by a school video interaction company. Through the first year, I had to film each of three colleagues three times as they were teaching. I learned a lot about how my colleagues worked.

In the second year, it focused more on my own functioning as a coach. How do I guide discussions? I filmed each discussion and looked at each interaction. This led me directly to further self-reflection. I was confronted with my own behaviour, how the real relationship is expressed, how one receives another person, how the conversation develops and how it is steered and what it leads to. One learns to notice the non-verbal signals of body-language.

This was for me a wonderful process of growth and development which has benefitted me greatly in both my work in school and in my personal life.

Commentary

Anneke’s colleagues were videotaped in the teaching situation. They were given a copy of the DVD and asked to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Anneke has learnt a lot about people and their lives, what makes them the people they are. Teaching is discovering a lot about yourself, as well as about others.

Caroline’s Story

I was teaching French and Spanish in a Church School in England. I had about 15 pupils in a mixed ability class that included my own son, aged 15. At our evening meal at home, I would listen to comments from my son about my French class that day: “X struggles in French and doesn’t think you are helping him. … Y is very bored in class because you spend ages explaining things she already knows! … Mum, I think I am quite good at French but you are very hard on me in class! …” I immediately saw the need for some changes and prayed a lot about it.

In those days, parents came into the school to help in many subjects but Foreign Language classes were considered the domain of the specialists and only those with a degree in that language could be in the classroom, lest they would spoil the accent of these tender young language learners. I began to question this approach and thought if we hear so much teaching in church about the body of Christ, why can’t the body of Christ begin to function also in the classroom of the church school and so began my experience of team teaching in the foreign Language classroom.

Several mothers came in to help in each class, sometimes moving around the classroom to help with the brighter pupils and other times with the very slow ones. All of these Mums were extremely nervous, aware of their lack of teaching qualifications and even of exam success in foreign languages at school themselves. They needed lots of reassurance before the class began but they depended a lot on God’s help in the classroom.

I suddenly saw the brighter pupils being challenged by one of them, instead of distracting the class when he had finished the task long before the others. The slower one, who just couldn’t grasp that grammatical point, suddenly understood it and I was left wondering how that mother had succeeded where I had seemingly failed. Had I not spent years of study and read endless books on how to teach and learn a foreign language and yet these Mums, with relatively little academic preparation, could come in and solve many difficult cases in my classroom?

It was exciting, yet humbling, for me at times. I began to understand that these Mums were often teachers in the Biblical sense of the word and had a real gift of teaching, though they had never been to training college or university. Their only model was Jesus and how he taught. They were not afraid to use the Word of God in the classroom. This was a turning point for me in how I teach Foreign Languages and marked the beginning of a long exciting journey. As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language in Spain to day I still find that journey exciting and I am constantly make new discoveries, even at 64 years of age!

On another note, one of those Mums who began to help me those years ago later went on to write a very successful parenting course, called “Positive Parenting.” She travels extensively teaching the course in the U.K. and beyond and claims that in our class many years ago, she learnt to teach for the first time! Recently, I bumped into one of my “weaker pupils” from that French class, who quickly reminded me how she got an “A” grade in the national exam, while I had predicted a “C” or “D”!

Matt’s Story

I am a special education teacher in a small school of 120 children, first through sixth grade. Our system is based on integration, which means that children with any kind of problem stay in the normal class most of the time, but get special care from me. I am assigned to each class for an average of three periods per week.

Until 2007, I took the students out of the classroom. Since 2007, I am obliged to work in the classroom at least part of the time. This change in policy is not easy for the classroom teachers. The idea that another adult, and a trained one at that, is with them in the classroom and is potentially watching them,  raises fears of judgment, of failure, of breaking the relative privacy of the classroom.

One colleague had just turned 60 and felt quite uncomfortable with the idea. On the other hand, we had known each other for 5 years and established a degree of mutual trust. When the change came in 2007, I guessed that she would find ways of avoiding the unavoidable. I was surprised when she said "Well, I'm just going to give myself a shove and we'll do it." And so we did. In the beginning, I could feel how tense she was when I was in the classroom. However, my attitude in my work is (and this is specifically Christian), that I'm a servant to the teacher as well as to the class. So I offered to teach some classes, I made preparations easy for her, I was as flexible as possible to support her programme, and, maybe most importantly, I would give her honest positive feedback about the way she dealt with the class. So gradually my colleague became more relaxed, and we actually had fun together preparing and cooperating in the classroom. She had a reputation of being rather tough – but I discovered and pointed out to her many ways in which she was really caring, encouraging and stimulating towards her class.

As Christmas came around, she said once to me privately: "You know, I had been really scared when you had to come into my classroom. But now I'm so thankful we did it! It's such a good experience to be cooperating like this – I really enjoy it!"